Aya goes to school with her sister Islam, 13. She returns home with her brother Jasem, who pushes her wheelchair through the deserted roads of old Hebron and through a military outpost.
“Every morning I come to school with my sister Aya. We face lot of difficulties such as walking near the army and the checkpoints,” said Islam.
Poor school conditions
The Al Faiha Basic School for Girls consists of a pair of tiny, two-storey buildings and a small courtyard which is not equipped for safe play. Each building has five small classrooms.
The surrounding area is economically depressed; shops have closed and 90 per cent of schoolchildren cannot afford their yearly fees of $12.50.
“Most of the residents of the H2 area lost their income,” explained Al Faiha Principal Jihan Shobaki.
High dropout rate
Some girls at Al Faiha end up going to nearby high schools to continue their education but many simply drop out. This year, only two out of 20 girls matriculated.
“Girls suffer from many psychosocial problems due to the increased levels of violence in the H2 area, thus affecting their concentration in school. This is why they end up either failing or dropping out,” said Mr. Shobaki.
Al Faiha is not the only school with such problems. A recent United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) survey showed that Palestinian children in grades four through nine are failing at a rate of more than 40 per cent in Arabic and nearly 80 per cent in mathematics.
Extra teachers hired to help
UNRWA has hired 3,000 extra remedial teachers and is being supported by UNICEF in getting more assistance to the students who need it.
As part of a back-to-school campaign, UNICEF – with the support of the Saudi Committee for Relief of Palestinian People, and the Government of the Netherlands – has provided almost 40,000 remedial worksheets and 1,500 math and science kits, and has distributed more than 50,000 school bags and 275 school uniforms. This support is aimed at improving the quality of education and ensuring that all children remain in school.
“Going back to school is very important for children, mainly for girls – it brings a sense of normality in their lives in an abnormal context,” said UNICEF’s Project Officer in Hebron, Wafa Obeidat.